Student councils across the UP system launched campaigns urging to move the second semester of A.Y 2021-2022 amid the aftermath of Typhoon Odette and the Omicron-driven surge of COVID-19 cases.
In the first leg of the 52nd General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) yesterday, statements and surveys from the university’s eight autonomous campuses showed that students are unprepared to resume classes as they have yet to recover from the back-to-back crises.
Typhoon Odette, which battered Visayas and Mindanao right before Christmas last year, left a death toll of 407 and damages amounting to P24.5 billion. Meanwhile, the highly transmissible Omicron variant led to an all-time high of 39,004 daily COVID cases in January.
UP’s academic calendar set the beginning of the second semester on Feb. 7, less than two weeks after the first semester ended on Jan. 25. The move was met with protest from students and formations in the UP system, who called on the university to “move the sem.”
In a survey of 241 students, UP Mindanao University Student Council (USC) revealed that 98% were not yet ready for the second semester, citing backlog in schoolwork and devastation from Typhoon Odette.
“[Students] are still struggling to make up with internet and efficient gadgets for the remote learning setup,” the council added. “This could potentially lead to collective burnout before the start of the next semester.”
On Feb. 3, the Mindanao USC requested for a two-week wellness break before the second semester but their administration has not responded as of press time.
UP Cebu (UPC) USC also lodged a petition to suspend classes “indefinitely” and waive academic deadlines after 88% of its 1,431 students said they were “gravely affected” by Typhoon Odette.
However, UPC Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Patricia Nazareno said the administration “cannot impose a uniform policy upon professors and lecturers due to academic freedom.”
“There are a lot of students, professors, REPS, and staff who are currently unreachable. We should not leave them behind and abandon them in these perilous times,” UPC USC said.
UP Visayas (UPV) USC also called for academic easing in the aftermath of Typhoon Odette. Despite strong clamor from students, their administration gave extensions for academic requirements on a “case-to-case basis” while deadlines for grade submissions were only moved “temporarily.”
Meanwhile in Metro Manila, the UP Diliman (UPD) USC also petitioned to move the semester due to a COVID surge in the region. The campus logged its highest ever tally of active COVID-19 cases in January, with 340 cases at its peak on Jan. 20.
READ: UP COVID-19 Watch
Following a survey of 1,108 respondents that found 883 students who experienced COVID symptoms, the UPD Rise For Education Alliance held a signature campaign calling to move the second semester to Feb. 21. As of Jan. 31, it has garnered 6,500 signatories.
Still, UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo rejected these calls, citing delayed and incoming first-year students and graduating students taking licensure exams. Instead, Nemenzo pushed through with the Feb. 7 class opening but suspended synchronous and asynchronous activities for the first week.
“We are in the same boat. But this is a boat that travels and navigates a sea of challenges we cannot simply exit,” Nemenzo said in a statement. “We must balance welfare and wellness with the continuity of education and services.”
A memorandum from UPD Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Theresa Payongayong also told faculty members to start academic deadlines by the third week of the semester, or on Feb. 21 to 26.
UPD USC Chairperson Jonas Abadilla criticized this move, saying it fails to consider that the UP community is struggling to keep afloat.
“The boat is sinking. The boat is only as strong as the people who are in it,” Abadilla said in the GASC.
UP Los Baños (UPLB) USC also filed a petition to delay the second semester by two weeks. The UPLB administration responded with academic easing from Feb. 8 to 18 where “no synchronous and asynchronous classes, submissions, and requirements should be given.”
“Parang recovery break lang din siya, iniba lang yung term na ginamit,” said UPLB USC Vice Chairperson Shaira Daludado.
Only UP Baguio (UPB) moved the opening of the second semester out of UP’s eight constituent units. UPB USC’s student disposition survey found that 40.7% of 432 students were in the middle of the spectrum in a scale between “absolutely struggling” to “absolutely doing well.”
UPB Chancellor Corazon Abansi adjusted the second semester opening to Feb. 14, one week later than the UP System calendar.
UPB USC lauded the collective efforts of students, faculty and staff in the success of their campaign.
“In the midst of uncertain times, it is imperative that the university remain a safe and nurturing environment that is responsive to the calls of the community,” the council said in a statement.